Issue 11 – October 2002
Want to go to dinner and a show? I find that a difficult proposition. When I’ve worked all day, I want to go home, shower, relax for a little while, put on clean clothes, and then go out. Since I’m fond of having dinner be a leisurely affair, there’s just not enough time for dinner before theater. So, for me, it’s a show and then dinner. A little snack before curtain and then after the standing ovation, a chance to relax and discuss, toast, and nibble.
When considering what to recommend, I set out with some simple criteria. First, the restaurant has to be open late enough that I don’t feel like I have to rush to get there, nor do I feel like the staff are just hovering around waiting for me to leave. Second, the kitchen must be offering a regular dinner menu, not some sort of leftover “late night” dining selection. Third, I didn’t want to review places that are institutions in the late night dining scene.
That left out some old favorites like Raoul’s, the Odeon and Café Luxembourg. It also left out the theater district haunts like Sardi’s and Joe Allen’s. I sat down with a few friends in the business and we came up with our short list of favorites for late-night dining.
Cinnabar is the hottest thing to happen this year to the Asian restaurant scene in New York. It has everything you could want in a restaurant of the genre: a gorgeous room with fantastic designer touches; a well-appointed, comfortable bar and lounge area; and an outdoor dining section that is set-up like a small secluded park.
Despite being decked out in sexy black shirts, the staff are knowledgeable and friendly, with no attitude. They know the food, they know the drinks, and they’re happy to offer advice. Consultant Geri Banks has put together a delicious selection of specialty cocktails, any of which provide the perfect way to begin relaxing post-show. She has also done a great job with an eclectic wine list, offering them by flavor categories that zero in on the qualities each brings to the glass.
The food is Chinese, but not limited to any particular region. Szechuan and Hunan square off opposite Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. The food is beautifully presented and even better as you dig into it. Prepare to eat too much, it’s just that good. Don’t miss the Roasted Cashew Nut Chicken and the Spicy XO Lobster.
Cinnabar, 235 West 56th Street (8th Avenue), 212-399-1100. Open noon until midnight, Monday through Saturday, noon until 11 p.m. on Sundays.
Seppi’s is the theater district sibling of the classic late night bistro, Raoul’s. Unlike the latter, which serves classic, hearty, French bistro fare, Seppi’s puts a modern twist on a variety of French dishes. Chef Claude Alain Solliard has an affinity for Alsatian cuisine, but is no slouch when covering the rest of the countryside.
The room is classic old-style pub, and despite having only been open for four years, has the look of a venue that has graced the block for decades. Located in the Parker Meridien Hotel, this may be the neighborhood’s best bistro. The front area is a polished wooden bar with tables and booths, the rear area is a slightly more lavish dining room with an attractive stained glass ceiling.
The winelist is limited, but has some interesting and unusual country wines from lesser known regions of France. The food is simply presented and delightful. You cannot pass up the broiled escargot served on crispy rosemary flat bread. Dump them out of the shell onto the bread and just munch happily away. The Alsatian pizzas on the same flat bread are well worth sampling. Go with the classic dishes and enjoy the updated twists, they are where the chef shines.
Seppi’s, 118 West 56th Street (6th Avenue), 212-708-7444, www.seppis.com. Open 11:30 a.m. until 2 a.m. Monday through Friday, 5:30 p.m. until 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.
As I write this, it is early August and I’ve already decided on my “meal of the year”. Esca is the acclaimed fish restaurant owned by the partnership (bordering on empire) of the Bastianich and Batali families (Felidia, Becco, Babbo, Lupa, Lidia’s, the Italian Wine Merchant, and the Bastianich Winery). This venue is impeccably managed by the Bastianich’s longtime friend and manager, Simon Dean.
The room is simple and homey. Previously home to the family’s never quite successful Frico Bar, they’ve finally hit their stride. Sit yourself down at the classic bar that includes a well-priced, great selection of Italian wines and spirits, and an excellent raw bar. When your table is ready, prepare for the real treat.
Chef David Pasternak puts out simple, clean preparations of some of the freshest fish you will have in Manhattan. Start with a sampling of the “crudo”, the Italian version of sushi. Pristine slices of fish, each paired with a drizzling of selected olive oils, vinaigrettes, and an astonishing collection of sea salts (Red clay salt? Lava salt? Who knew?) grace your plate. Move on to a well-prepared pasta, and finish off with perfectly roasted fish with oil and herbs or a simple tapenade.
Esca, 402 West 43rd Street (9th Avenue), 212-564-7272. Lunch Monday through Friday from noon until 2:30 p.m., Dinner Sundays and Mondays until 10:30 and Tuesday through Saturday until 11:30 p.m.
My first experience of Jane was shortly after they opened a year or two ago. It was for lunch, in spring, and we were the only customers there. We had a delicious lunch, and I hoped for their sake that the place would catch on. It has, and now Jane can justify staying open until the wee hours.
The room is done in “oversize”. There are large mirrors and paintings on the walls, the ceilings are high, the banquettes low, the tables high. You have a feeling that you’re sitting somewhere impressive, especially when the room is full and the noise volume high. When it quiets down you can feel a tad small, but the food and drink will take your attention away from any misgivings.
The food is, for lack of a better term, experimental American. The regular menu items, tried and true, show the mettle of the chef. Start with one of the flatbread selections, move on to the fantastic ahi tuna and pineapple roll, and finish off with any one of the well prepared entrees. The daily specials are hit and miss, but that’s what experimentation is all about, and even the misses are fun to try. A short but really well selected winelist and some quite good specialty cocktails round out the experience.
Jane, 100 West Houston Street (between Thompson Street & LaGuardia Place), 212-254-7000. Open for lunch and dinner seven days a week, until 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.
There has been a recent trend in New York to offer “wood-burning oven” food. Several really good restaurants, like Beacon and Five Points have earned excellent reputations for their offerings. Peasant is an unlikely candidate to join their ranks, being located about as out of the way as one can be in Manhattan on the Lower East Side. Nonetheless, don’t let the location scare you away, as this trendy little dive is putting out some of the best food in its class.
The room is definitely not what you’re there for. Sparsely and not particularly comfortably furnished, with a look like a not-quite-finished loft space. As one of my best friends would put it, “I see they’ve spared every expense on the decor”. Still, the room is somehow warm and inviting, and the smattering of well-known chefs having dinner on their nights off is an immediate, positive draw. The waitstaff is as disheveled as the room, but thoroughly charming and completely at ease with the menu.
Chef Frank DeCarlo’s food is simple and amazing. Working from an open kitchen, his team puts out well flavored, hearty fare, that will keep you coming back. Don’t miss faves are the roast sardines, a pizza that will transport you to southern Italy, and the chicken stuffed with sausage. The winelist is appropriately selected and well laid out, you won’t have any trouble picking a winner to pair with your feast.
Peasant, 194 Elizabeth Street (between Spring and Prince Streets), 212-965-9511. Dinner only, Monday through Saturday from 6 p.m. until midnight, Sundays until 10 p.m.
I was not prepared to like Industry (food). The name seemed pretentious, the location, in the now trendy East Village seemed selected just for effect, and the look as you step inside is one of a carefully choreographed treehouse for a magazine layout. You’re not sure if you should touch anything. The staff at the entrance have that Sex and the City new restaurant attitude down cold. The place is as slick as their website, and both turn out to be worth the visit.
The bar is sleek, polished wood, and peopled by a mix of East Village locals and hip, uptown folk “slumming”, but being careful not slum somewhere that is, well, a slum. The hostesses will guide you downstairs to a table, where, miraculously, the whole world changes. The waitstaff, if slightly spacey, is warm and welcoming. They don’t know much about the food, but they know it’s good, and they’re right.
The food is probably best described as eclectic. It’s the kind of food that chefs cook for themselves and friends when they sit down late night after service. They want something simple and clean, but intelligently thought out. Not unexpected when you find out that Chef Alex Freij worked for both Jean-Louis Palladin and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and co-owner Chris Eddy likewise worked for Jean-Georges at Mercer Kitchen.. The lobster bruschetta is a winner, as is the lamb with tomato marmalade.
Industry (food), 509 East 6th Street (between Avenues A and B), 212-777-5920, www.industryfood.com. Open for dinner only, until 2 a.m. Sunday through Thursday. Listed hours on Friday and Saturday are until 3 a.m., but the dining room sort of gets turned into a lounge after midnight.
Passport magazine is a relatively new, ultra-slick, ultra-hip gay travel magazine. My friends Don Tuthill and Robert Adams, respectively the publisher and editor-in-chief, who have owned and run QSF magazine for many years, launched this publication recently. It has received industry accolades. They asked me to come along and write the occasional article for this venture as well.